February 14 is an immensely important day at Fairfield University. Usually, this importance stems solely from the celebration of Valentine’s Day. However, in 2024, February 14 is also marked by another occasion of monumental significance to the Fairfield community: Ash Wednesday.

The traditional beginning of Lent, which can fall as early as February 4 or as late as March 10, is difficult to miss on campus. Increasingly throughout the day, many Christian Stags can be seen wearing ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance.

There is something in particular about Ash Wednesday that reminds us we can’t get very far in life without God’s help.

Campus Minister for Liturgy Valerie Kisselback

Ash Wednesday is not a uniquely Catholic observance. Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Congregationalist and Presbyterian congregations all use ashes to mark the beginning of the Lenten season. These ashes are the burnt remains of the blessed palm leaves used in the previous year’s celebration of Palm Sunday.

Although not a Holy Day of Obligation on which Catholics are obliged to attend Mass, Ash Wednesday is nevertheless important as a day of fasting and abstinence at Fairfield. According to Campus Minister for Liturgy Valerie Kisselback, the Egan Chapel saw an attendance of more than 1,500 at its 2023 Ash Wednesday Masses and word services.

This figure is considerably higher than the average weekly attendance for the two Masses that the Egan Chapel hosts each Sunday.

“There is something in particular about Ash Wednesday that reminds us we can’t get very far in life without God’s help,” said Kisselback.

“Attendance tends to build as the day goes on,” says liturgical minister Julia Kormylo ‘24. “Students see the first few people with ashes on their foreheads, remember what day it is, and then by evening the chapel is packed with students.”

The Egan Chapel will have Mass at 12:30pm, 4pm, 5:30pm, and 9pm. The chapel will also host shorter word services with distribution of ashes at 8pm and 7pm.

According to Kisselback, last year’s high attendance indicated the need for the additional 5:30pm Mass for this year’s observance of Ash Wednesday.

“I hope they all come back on Sunday!,” she said. “There is a community of people here who are trying to walk through life with Christ together. There is no need to go it alone. We’re here every week. Everyone is most welcome.”

During Lent, the Egan Chapel will also offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30-9pm and on Wednesdays from 9-10pm. The Stations of the Cross will also be observed on February 29 at 7pm.

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